By Maddy Vitale
When you think of a seashore town in the winter, throngs of people, crowded streets and a Boardwalk buzzing with excitement, would be the last things you might imagine.
But then you weren’t thinking of Ocean City, where activities throughout the year, boutique-style shops, and great eateries entice tourists, help to maintain year-round residents, and keep this popular vacation retreat, hopping.
And on First Night, in its 26th year, 10,000 people – many families – will enjoy all that the city has to offer and bring in the new year in a safe, fun, environment, where the list of things to do is so long, it would be virtually impossible for anyone to be bored.
“The event is always wildly popular,” said Doug Bergen, spokesman for the city. “It is fun to see the streets filled as if it were a summer night.”
Bergen didn’t have the exact number of advanced admission button sales, but he said sales are going very well.
“We expect to sell out,” he said.
As for a blustery weather forecast for the holiday weekend, Bergen said, “Cold weather has never been much of a factor in sales. Most venues are indoors.”
For a $20 admission button, First Night includes more than 75 shows and activities at venues throughout Ocean City, during an alcohol-free celebration from 4 p.m. to midnight on Dec. 31. A fireworks display just before midnight, will add to the excitement of ringing in 2018 Ocean City style.
But that won’t end the festivities.
First Day includes the popular, ceremonial “First Plunge” of 2018. There is also a 5-kilometer run and an all-day Shopping Extravaganza at stores in town. In addition, anyone who attends First Night will have the opportunity to visit the newly restored U.S. Life Saving Station 30 at the intersection of Fourth Street and Atlantic Avenue, Bergen said.
Peter Voudouris, Director of Hotel Operations at the historic Flanders hotel, said First Night really gives a boost to business.
“We do packages for First Night weekend. People stay at the hotel and get the buttons for First Night, so that really helps us tremendously,” Voudouris said. “It is a nice package. This year we have a lot of families. There are so many activities. We have couples coming for dinner, but mostly, we get families this weekend.”
And if you are thinking about staying at The Flanders, the hotel is booking up quickly for both rooms and dinner.
“For the First Night weekend dinners are almost sold out. We are still taking reservations for New Year’s Day,” Voudouris said.
And like Bergen, Voudouris said people don’t let weather curtail their plans to enjoy First Night.
“I don’t really think that the weather affects the weekend, because we have people booking a year ahead of time. Also, people are excited. They look forward to First Night.”
Ocean City Councilwoman Karen Bergman had thoughts on First Night from her role on council, to her seat on the tourism committee, to being director of catering for the Flanders hotel.
First Night is a continuation of all of the wonderful activities the city provides to make Ocean City a year-round destination, she said.
“The First Night of Ocean City really starts the year off showing people who we really are – a family destination. And it starts New Year’s Eve,” Bergman said.
Bergman likes that the event is geared toward families.
“It is not an alcohol-driven event. It is a family event. It is good, clean, fun,” Bergman said.
She also sees the weekend from an economic standpoint.
“It is a very successful night for us every year. The hotel books up fast,” she said.
For the city itself, the lineup of family events, means more business, not just for the hotels, but shops in the downtown and eateries.
“After First Night is the Polar Bear Plunge and the run. It is just so busy here,” Bergman said. “On New Year’s Day the Boardwalk looks like a spring day. People come to Ocean City year-round and it has to do with all of these special events.”
First Night admission buttons cost $20 and are good for all events. Children age 2 and under are free. Buttons can be purchased online at firstnightocnj.com or by calling 800-BEACH-NJ. People can also purchase the buttons at the Welcome Center on the Route 52 causeway from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily and at Stainton’s Square, 810 Asbury Ave. from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and at City Hall from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Sales are capped at 10,000 and buttons do sell out.
Primary sponsors include Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, OceanFirst Bank, Ocean City Tabernacle and the Ocean City Free Public Library.